7 April 2024

Bully bosses in parliament could soon face fines and suspensions

| Chris Johnson
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MPs who bully their parliamentary staff could soon face fines. Photo: Michelle Kroll.

Federal MPs who breach workplace rules could soon face serious penalties, including a loss of pay and removal from parliamentary committees.

Parliament will soon consider draft laws that give it great power to act against bullying and harassing members of the House of Representatives and the Senate.

The new code of conduct adopted last year could be given teeth and used to act against serious offences parliamentarians commit against staff and colleagues.

Sanctions being considered range from a reprimand to a fine of up to $10,000, which equates to about 5 per cent of a backbencher’s annual salary.

The Independent Parliamentary Standards Commission, which was established on recommendation from the Set the Standard report by former sex discrimination commissioner Kate Jenkins, could also recommend MPs be suspended from parliament or be relieved of their committee positions.

The parliament would have to agree to take such action.

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The government is consulting with the Opposition and crossbench to set up a new parliamentary body to enforce the codes of conduct and investigate possible breaches.

Public Service Minister Katy Gallagher said while parliament has already agreed to recommendations from the Set the Standard report, legislation that goes to penalties for offending MPs was still very much in draft form.

“Well, we’ve all agreed to the recommendations in Set the Standard. This was one of those recommendations,” she said when asked about the possibility of MPs agreeing to make the sanctions law.

“We’ve agreed to codes of conduct that have been adopted by both chambers. We’ve agreed to the Parliamentary Workplace Support Service. That was established by legislation.

“This will be the same. I’m very confident that we will have parliamentary agreement to it.

“What the final form of that looks like is still to be determined, but I’m working across the parliament with Independents, the Greens, the Opposition, to make sure that we get this landed.

“Hopefully we get it landed without the need for a parliamentary inquiry into it, and then we can get it up and running around 1 October.”

The minister said the legislation would cover MPs, senators, and staff in Parliament House.

But she wasn’t happy about the issue already being discussed in the media.

She said some of the talk was hypothetical and speculative.

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“It’s all about raising the culture and improving the culture in this place. I think that has happened in the last 18 months or so,” Senator Gallagher said.

“I think there has been a big change in the way this building operates as a workplace, and this is the final kind of piece of the puzzle in making sure that we’ve got all the systems in place to make sure that people are held to account for their behaviour … It wasn’t our intention to have it out being publicly ventilated, but that’s, you know, what’s happened now.

“We sort of put a proposition on the table; we’ll get feedback about that.

“Obviously, the rate of sanctions, whether there are financial penalties, what is the publication of complaints if complaints are substantiated – they are all, I guess, mechanisms that could be used to make sure that people are held to account for their behaviour in this place.

“But financial penalties were one of the recommendations through the Set the Standard report – sanctions that looked at financial penalties.

“So that’s why they’re on the table and we’ll continue to work across the parliament to see where we get to with that – whether we have a limit on it, how that might operate – and we’re taking some legal advice on it as well.”

Original Article published by Chris Johnson on Riotact.

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